Myanmar Military Proposes Charter Change to Ban Ministers with Foreign Spouses, Children

By San Yamin Aung 17 September 2019

YANGON—In a move viewed as targeting State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s military-appointed lawmakers on Tuesday proposed amending the Constitution to bar anyone who has a foreign citizen in their immediate family from becoming a Union minister or chief minister.

“It aims to prevent foreign connections and foreign influence on Union ministers and chief ministers, their spouses and their children, and to prevent spying by other countries, treason, and foreign interference in internal affairs,” the military appointees said in a statement explaining their proposal distributed to lawmakers on Tuesday.

Brigadier General Maung Maung, the leader of a group of military-appointed lawmakers, submitted the constitutional amendment bill to the Union Parliament.

The draft bill, which was signed by 144 unelected military lawmakers, would add to two key articles of the Constitution clauses barring a person who owes allegiance to a foreign power, is the subject of a foreign power or is a citizen of a foreign country—or whose parents, spouse, children or children’s spouses fall into these categories—from becoming a Union minister or chief minister. The clause would be added to Article 232(a) and Article 261(a). The former deals with the appointment of Union ministers, while the latter deals with the appointment of chief ministers.

Similar restrictions already exist in relation to the offices of Union President and Vice President, under Article 59(f). The article bars Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose late husband was British, from becoming Union President.

Some observers believe the military-appointed lawmakers’ proposed constitutional amendment bill is designed to keep Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming a Union minister if her government wins another term. She holds three posts in the current government: State Counselor, President’s Office minister and foreign affairs minister.

It would also affect some other current ministers and chief ministers whose children are married to foreign citizens.

NLD lawmaker U Myat Nyana Soe, who is also the secretary of the Constitution-Amendment Committee, told reporters in Naypyitaw on Tuesday that the military-appointed lawmakers are seeking to extend the restrictions contained in Article 59(f) to cover the appointment of Union ministers and chief ministers.

The lawmaker said there were no such restrictions in either the 1947 or 1974 Myanmar constitutions, and they do not exist in other countries’ constitutions.

“This kind of unusual restriction can only be found in Myanmar’s Constitution—I personally think the possibility that this is aimed at a specific person deserves serious consideration,” he said.

U Sai Leik, general secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), said the military-proposed draft bill is unacceptable, as it was created with a specific individual in mind, not the country as a whole.

“I just see such a proposal, which has a specific individual in mind, as a time-wasting challenge to constitutional reform, when we should be discussing state-building, state administration and power-sharing with ethnicities,” he said.

This is the third time the military has submitted its own proposal to amend the charter since the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic parties launched their bid to amend the military-drafted Constitution.

On two previous occasions, military appointees collaborated with lawmakers from the military-backed, former ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in submitting constitutional amendment bills.

The first included a single proposed amendment that would see regional chief ministers elected by local legislatures, rather than appointed by the Union President. The second bill included four proposed amendments to limit the president’s executive power in the states and regions.

However, lawmakers voted that both bills should be reviewed by the Constitution-Amendment Committee, which is drafting a constitutional amendment bill, instead of the full Parliament.

Tuesday’s constitutional amendment bill is the first submitted by military appointees alone.

The Parliament Speaker announced on Tuesday that the bill will be scrutinized by the Union Parliament’s Joint Bill Committee, which will send its findings regarding the draft bill back to Parliament.

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